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TEXT 11A

Superconductivity

According to the prominent scientist in this country V. L. Ginsburg the latest world achievements in the field of superconductivity mean a revolution in technology and industry. Recent spectacular breakthroughs in superconductors may be compared with the physics discoveries that led to electronics and nuclear power. They are likely to bring the mankind to the threshold of a new technological age. Prestige, economic and military benefits could well come to the nation that first masters this new field of physics. Superconductors were once thought to be physically impossible. But in 1911 superconductivity was discovered by a Dutch physicist K.Onnes, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1913 for his low-temperature research. He found the electrical resistivity of a mercury wire to disappear suddenly when cooled below a temperature of 4 Kelvin (-269°C). Absolute zero is known to be О К. This discovery was a completely unexpected phenomenon. He also discovered that a superconducting material can be returned to the normal state either by passing a sufficiently large current through it or by applying a sufficiently strong magnetic field to it. But at that time there was no theory to explain this.

For almost 50 years after K.Onnes' discovery theorists were unable to develop a fundamental theory of superconductivity. In 1950 physicists Landau and Ginsburg made a great contribution to the development of superconductivity theory. They introduced a model which proved to be useful in understanding electromagnetic properties of superconductors. Finally, in 1957 a satisfactory theory was presented by American physicists, which won for them in 1972 the Nobel Prize in physics. Research in superconductors became especially active since a discovery made in 1986 by IBM scientists in Zurich. They found a metallic ceramic compound to become a superconductor at a temperature well above the previously achieved record of 23 K.

It was difficult to believe it. However, in 1987 American physicist Paul Chu informed about a much more sensational discovery: he and his colleagues produced superconductivity at an unbelievable before temperature 98 К in a special ceramic material. At once in all leading laboratories throughout the world superconductors of critical temperature 100 К and higher (that is, above the boiling temperature of liquid nitrogen) were obtained. Thus, potential technical uses of high temperature superconductivity seemed to be possible and practical. Now some scientists are trying to find a ceramic that works at room temperature. But getting superconductors from the laboratory into production will be no easy task. While the new superconductors are easily made, their quality is often uneven. Some tend to break when produced, others lose their superconductivity within minutes or hours. All are extremely difficult to fabricate into wires. Moreover, scientists kick a full understanding of how ceramics become superconductors. This fact makes developing new substances largely a random process. This is likely to continue until theorists give a fuller explanation of low superconductivity is produced in the new materials.



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